What is Braille?

Braille is a system of raised dots which blind people read with their fingertips. The Braille dots are used to represent words and numbers, punctuation characters and even music.2

Braille has many uses:

  • A wide selection of magazines, fiction and non-fiction books are available in Braille
  • Braille can be used to label items such as food cans and packets, medicines, documents, CDs etc
  • To play games including cards, bingo and uno
  • To keep a diary or address book, or make shopping lists
  • Bank statements, utility bills and other business letters can be provided in Braille
  • Some restaurants and pub chains offer Braille menus

A Braille character or "cell" consists of 6 dots. There are different Braille codes in use:2

  • 'Uncontracted' or Grade 1 Braille represents each print character as one Braille cell
  • 'Contracted' or Grade 2 Braille is a form of shorthand in which groups of letters may be combined into a single Braille cell. Many experienced Braille users read and write grade 2 Braille as it can increase reading speed.

Creating Braille manually

Braille can be produced manually using a pointed stylus to push dots into paper. The paper is placed on a portable writing-frame, pushing the stylus into the paper creates a dot on the underside of the paper. As this creates a dot on the reverse side of the paper the Braille has to be written back to front. 3
Upward writing frames are now available which create the dots on the front of the piece of paper enabling you to produce Braille from left to right as you would read the code. This is quicker than having to write backwards. 3

Braille can also be created on manual desktop machines similar to traditional manual typewriters. Some are portable, others are designed as desktop machines. They have six keys to produce the Braille (one key for each dot in a Braille cell). Some can use standard A5 size paper (although Braille produced on this will not be very durable) others require special braille paper (Braille created on this is more durable), and can be used with some labelling materials.3

Braille and computers

Printing Braille
Braille can also be produced on a computer using translation software and a Braille embosser instead of a printer. The embossers are connected to your computer like a text printer or can be connected to notetakers. They work by punching dots onto paper.3

Software is required to convert text to Braille before it is embossed (known as Braille translation software). For more information on this software, please refer to the RNIB information page: 'braille software'.3-5

Before purchasing a Braille embosser consider whether you need to print single or double sided, the speed the embosser is capable of printing at and whether you need the printer to be portable.2-5 Some embossers can also print with ink and some can produce Moon.

Braille embossers usually use special Braille paper which is thicker and more expensive than normal paper.4 Embossers can be quite noisy, so if yours is going to be used regularly and cannot be kept in a room away from people, an acoustic hood or soundproof case is recommended.3

An alternative to reading from the screen
Braille displays are tactile devices that are usually placed in front of your computer keyboard. They provide you with the means to read the contents of your computer screen by touch in Braille.5 Braille displays have a number of cells and each cell has 6 or 8 pins. These pins are electronically moved up and down, to create a Braille version of the characters that appear on the computer screen. Each Braille cell represents one character from the screen. An 80 cell Braille display represents approximately one line of text on a screen.5

Braille displays work with screen reader software which Living made easy does not list. Always ensure that the Braille display you choose will work with your chosen screen reader.

Alternative keyboards
Keyboards are available with Braille keys instead of the standard QWERTY keys although some users may prefer to use a standard keyboard.

Portable Braille Computing
If portable computing is required Braille notetakers are machines with word processing features similar to an electric word processor or laptop but with a Braille keyboard and /or Braille display.

Further information

Braille requires a fine sense of touch, some individuals with conditions such as diabetes, who have reduced finger sensitivity may find using Braille difficult and may find using Moon easier. Read our advice on Moon. For information on learning Braille including details of courses visit the RNIB Learning Braille webpage.

For more information on Braille visit the RNIB Braille information webpage

Advice last checked: 09 October 2014 Next check due: 09 October 2017

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement